No Limit Bullies: Run? Or Rope-a-dope?
Here’s a typical unpleasant poker experience – having eagerly anticipated sitting down to play a hopefully rewarding poker session (and with that familiar determination and confidence with which we tend to begin), perhaps after brushing up on our game, things soon don’t appear to be going as we had planned. Something’s wrong and it dawns on us that our game is stifled. We’re not managing to get out of first gear because the player to our left keeps putting us under too much pressure. Limping is tantamount to throwing coins down a drain as the subsequent raises make calling too expensive, and the same goes for speculative hands. Even when we think we might take control of a pot the increasingly annoying thorn in our side hijacks it with a bet we’re not prepared to match. Trying to turn the tables when we finally get a monster yields nothing as we’re met with a fold (being out of position is a pain). Quite simply, we’re being dominated by a relentless table bully.
Clearly, it makes no sense to continue bleeding both chips and opportunities, so something has to be done. The ‘easy’ option would be to leave the table and seek pastures new. Indeed this makes sense in all sorts of situations because the last place we – and our bankroll – should be is sitting in a game we feel uncomfortable playing.
But avoiding situations can turn into a bad habit for a couple of reasons. First, we’re going to better learn and enrich our game by broadening our sphere of experience and addressing this or that issue rather than running from it. Secondly, just because a certain scenario feels disadvantageous this isn’t necessarily going to be the case. Moreover, ostensibly troublesome problems might in fact be potentially profitable – we might simply have been going about our business with an incorrect strategy when in reality our opponent’s approach could well be vulnerable to exploitation.
Leaving is an option when faced with a bully, but we should also entertain staying around with a view to making whatever adjustments are called for in order to punish what is ultimately predictable play. And it’s not too difficult a task when dealing with the archetypal table bully. Just as martial arts often uses the opponent’s own force as a weapon or boxers draw their over-aggressive victim in, poker affords us a similar strategy.
Instead of us betting or wasting money with speculative hands, for example, when it is inevitable that at some point – before we have the chance to give these holdings time to improve – we’re going to be priced out of the pot, we should mix a little aggression (and bluffing) of our own with letting the bully do all the ‘work’ when we get a big hand. Note that the former is easier than it might seem because, while these players are capable of fighting fire with fire, they prefer to pick on the weaker, more passive players and thus avoid unnecessary skirmishes. Generally, their strategy continues until they can no longer get away with it and, ironically, they are the ones who tend to leave once their tactics have been exposed to the extent that hunter becomes prey.
Of course this is no different a situation to others in that experience is a key factor, but the trick is to ‘strike’ with good hands by inviting the bully to make all the running so that they dig themselves, at each betting stage, deeper and deeper into a whole from which there is no escape as the pot grows without us having had to do the work. Initially counter-intuitive, perhaps, this is an effective way to deal with the typical table bully.
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador